The United Tajik Opposition said yesterday that it has dissolved all of its military formations. The announcement eliminates one of the major obstacles to restoring stability in a country that has known few days of peace since its independence in 1991. Our Central Asia correspondent Bruce Pannier reports.
Prague, 4 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Tajikistan left the horrors of its civil war one step further behind yesterday. More than two years after a peace accord between the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) was signed, UTO leader Said Abdullo Nuri announced yesterday that its military formations no longer exist:
"By this, we come to the completion of the second stage of the military protocol. We, the opposition, officially declare that our military groups are disbanded."
Nuri said all fighters of the UTO have either integrated into Tajikistan's national army or surrendered their weapons and taken up civilian pursuits. Nuri said the UTO exists now only as a political force.
With the disbanding of UTO military formations, the Tajik government is now obligated to lift all remaining bans on opposition parties and media who are part of the UTO.
Yesterday's announcement is more than just a victory for the UTO, the Tajik government and the people of Tajikistan. It is also a victory for the United Nations mission in Tajikistan, the two countries that mediated peace talks -- Russia and Iran -- and other countries in the region that signed on as guarantors of the peace in Tajikistan.
Forces of the UTO and the Tajik government fought a civil war between 1992 and 1997. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Nuri signed a peace accord in Moscow in June 1997 ending the fighting. The two sides agreed to share power in the government and integrate their armed forces.
One of the terms of the accord was the disarmament of UTO military formations. Some UTO field commanders, however, refused to disarm. Most of the UTO's military units were formed locally, among the men of a village or valley. Operating in mountainous terrain with poor communications, these units developed a certain independence, which in extreme cases resembled warlord-like "turfs."
Others UTO commanders were hesitant about handing over their weapons and remaining unarmed during the military reprocessing period. Forced attempts by government troops or militia at roadside checkpoints to obtain these weapons often met with violence.
Troops from UTO units sometimes expressed their displeasure with government policies through the use of arms. This was especially true in attempts to free jailed UTO comrades from police stations. In one of the worst incidents involving UTO fighters, three unarmed UN observers and their driver were murdered last summer in a remote valley in central Tajikistan.
The United Nations, international aid organizations working in Tajikistan and the countries guaranteeing the peace process all expressed their outrage. With the help of the UTO, the Tajik government -- which bore the brunt of the criticism -- brought the investigation to a close quickly, convicting three UTO fighters for the deaths.
Although the Tajik government could have used the killings to its advantage, it refrained from criticizing its civil war enemy, a move analysts say showed the government's commitment to the peace process.
Abdumajid Dostiyev is an opposition representative and the deputy chairman on the country's National Reconciliation Commission. In comments made yesterday in Dushanbe, Dostiyev emphasized the importance of the UTO announcement:
"At times, we had to withhold our disappointment and not be discouraged by provocations, and today we transferred a military/political force to just a political (force). And from now on all of our problems can be solved peacefully, by political methods."
By the end of August, only members of the armed forces and law enforcement officers will legally be permitted to carry weapons in Tajikistan. Abdunabi Sattarzoda is a member of the UTO and a representative on the National Reconciliation Commission. He said this would make identifying criminals much easier:
"No armed group or gunmen who keep weapons can avoid responsibility by saying that he is an opposition supporter. "
Ibrahim Usmonov is a member of the Tajik parliament and sits on the National Reconciliation Commission. He urged both sides in the peace process to press forward:
"We ask the government and opposition to continue their activities for implementation of the peace accord."
That this condition of the peace accord could be declared fulfilled through the cooperation of former enemies and their foreign partners in peace raises expectations that upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections -- Tajikistan's new battlefield -- may propel the country further down the road to peace and stability.
Salimjon Aioubov of RFE/RL's Tajik Service contributed to this article.